Having just come back from Bestival, with Reading a couple of weeks before that, I’ve come up with a handy list of ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s that you can learn from for next summer.
Don’t forget that it’s a music festival, not a weekend camping. You may as well see a few bands. You never know, you might even like them.
Do pace yourself. Festivals are more of a marathon than a sprint. While it always seems like drinking everything you can lay your hands on during the first day, when there’s not even music to act as a distraction, is a good way to pass the time, the three day long hangover afterwards tends to get in the way of the rest of the festival. Sleep is another one to watch. While it seems like a great idea at the time to challenge each other, in the spirit of ‘laddishness’, to a contest of who can avoid going to sleep first, with the threat of a quasi-homoerotic bukkake session for the loser, at about six when the sun rises you tend to realise how badly you’ve misjudged the situation. Or just wake up a little bit sticky and with nowhere to shower.
Don’t go in fancy dress unless it’s appropriate. For some festivals fancy dress is practically encouraged, for others it tends to be the territory of those desperate for attention or just so far gone they have no idea what they’ve been dressed up in. However at others, normally the more ‘boutique’ ones (for those fluent in festi-speak), fancy dress is something practically encouraged, and not dressing up immediately marks you out as one of ‘those people’, the sort that turn up to bops without a costume or have just come as ‘insert character here on their day off’. And nobody wants to be one of those people.
Do check the tent before you go. I made the mistake of believing that the tent I had left in the roof of my garage five years ago would definitely be in exactly the same condition that I had packed it away in. I was proved very, very wrong. Having raced to find a campsite and get the tents up before it started raining I opened up the tent bag and pulled out the tent, only to find it tearing like tissue paper. This led to a trip to the nearest camping shop, in the rain that I had been trying to avoid, to buy a tent that I’m pretty sure I paid twice what it was worth. The only saving grace was that after the festival I took back my tent, claiming it leaked, and managed to get a full refund.
Don’t bother collecting cups. While I’ve heard at some festivals collecting cups can be relatively easy, profitable and carries little social stigma, at Reading these points definitely do not apply. While 10p a cup may seem like it initially stacks up, you’ll probably spend well more than that on the £5 pints needed to make the task of clambering around on the floor, picking up screwed up bits of cardboard on the floor (or even worse, begging strangers for their cups) bearable.
Do remember appropriate footwear. If it rains, bring wellies. If you don’t your feet are going to know about it and you’re going to regret it, trench-foot makes for one of the worst festival souvenirs (get a t-shirt instead, if you must). Always remember a comfortable pair of trainers though, or any sort of shoe that is designed to actually fit feet. After four days of wearing wellies you’ll realise the person that designed them must have had an element of masochism about them; your soles will feel as though they have lost a boxing match with the floor while your little toes are not likely to ever be the same again.
Don’t plan to buy all your food and drink there. The local supermarkets will be very busy. Literally, it’s like a nuclear war has been announced and panic buying has set in, except if everyone panic buying was already drunk and unable to push the trolley in a straight line. You’ll get overwhelmed by the choice of food, when all you can really keep for longer than a day is biscuits and crisps (give up on the five-a-day/any sources of protein, carbs are your friend), and while the beer may be cheap, your muscles will not let you forget about it when you’ve carried two crates a couple of miles through the mud. Equally buying your food on-site is a no-go, unless you’ve recently won the lottery. Festival supermarkets charge M&S prices for Aldi goods, and the hot food stands think nothing of charging you £5 for a burger WITHOUT CHIPS. Saying that, if you are buying your food there choose Bestival’s range of freshly made and locally sourced food, which ranges from paella to sausages, as opposed to Reading’s ‘variety’ (the highlight of which is a giant Yorkshire pudding stand).
Do choose your spot carefully. Your spot very much depends on your outlook, as well as the festival. At Reading the further forward you get the less space you get to stand in (until you get so far forward you are just being held up by other people), and as soon as the music starts you will need to use all your concentration just to stay up as everyone decides to drunkenly make some space/surge forward. This will happen in any band. Seriously, I was once forced to mosh to an acoustic Mumford and Sons performance. Further back tends to give you a bit more space and a chance of actually seeing the band/enjoying the music, as opposed to this just being a soundtrack to your survival attempts. At Bestival you’re probably a bit safer, everyone’s too busy skanking to think about anyone else.
Don’t forget to charge your phone. The music is best enjoyed with friends, and I can guarantee that as soon you enter the arena you’ll lose them. I have literally been behind someone in the queue and managed to lose them within five seconds of getting in, and meeting points are a great idea until its five minutes before the band starts and you suddenly realise there is more than one ice cream van by the side of the stage.
Do explore the other things on offer (sometimes). At some festivals the music is just the beginning, at others it’s very much the end. At Bestival I danced to 80s classics in a fake hollowed-out tree, to blues in a grungy bar, heard some reggae and chilled on some hanging benches, all after the main stages had finished. On the other hand when the music ends at Reading you may as well go to bed (unless you want to brave the 500 capacity silent disco, which for a site of 90,000 is a bit small and tends to lead to queuing).
Don’t trust the weather forecast. It’s never right. If it says it’s going to be sunny, bring waterproofs. If it predicts rain, bring a pair of trainers.